NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, formerly members of the “Tennessee Three,” have regained their legislative seats after being expelled for participating in a gun control protest on the House floor.
The two young Black lawmakers were reinstated on an interim basis by local officials after being removed from the GOP-dominated Statehouse. They have now fully reclaimed their positions through a special election. According to unofficial results from the Tennessee’s Secretary of State’s office, both of them easily defeated their opponents in districts that heavily favor Democrats.
Jones, who resides in Nashville, faced off against Republican candidate Laura Nelson, while Pearson, from Memphis, went up against independent candidate Jeff Johnston.
“I think if we keep running this race, there will be victory after victory after victory,” said Pearson to his supporters on Thursday. He emphasized that his win was made possible by the support of Black women and the organizing work they had done to support him and other successful politicians.
The election took place as lawmakers are preparing to return to Nashville for a special session later this month to address potential changes to the state’s gun control laws. Although Jones and Pearson’s reelection won’t significantly impact the Republican supermajority in the Legislature, they are expected to strongly oppose some of their GOP colleagues’ policies.
Jones and Pearson were elected to the Statehouse last year and had been relatively under the radar until this spring when they joined Democrat Rep. Gloria Johnson in a protest on the House floor calling for more gun control. This protest happened just days after a fatal shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville. The three lawmakers joined protesters in demanding stricter firearm regulations.
The Republican lawmakers quickly deemed their actions as a violation of House rules and moved to expel them. This extraordinary decision left approximately 140,000 voters in primarily Black districts in Nashville and Memphis without representation in the Tennessee House.
Johnson, who is white, narrowly avoided expulsion, while Pearson and Jones were removed by the predominantly white GOP caucus. House Republican leaders have denied that race was a factor in the expulsion hearings, but Democrats have disagreed, with Johnson suggesting that she was only spared due to her being white.
The expulsions garnered national support for the “Tennessee Three,” particularly for Pearson and Jones’ campaign fundraising efforts. They raised over $2 million combined through about 70,400 campaign donations from across the country. This amount is significantly higher than usual for Tennessee’s Republican legislative leaders and unprecedented for two freshman Democrats in a superminority.
On the other side, more than 15 Republican lawmakers provided financial support to Jones’ Republican opponent, Nelson. Nelson raised over $34,000 for the race, while Johnston, Pearson’s opponent, raised less than $400.
In addition to reclaiming their seats, Thursday’s election also has implications for two other legislative seats. In Nashville, community organizer Aftyn Behn and former Metro Councilmember Anthony Davis were competing for a House seat in a district in the city’s northeastern region, left vacant after the death of Democratic Rep. Bill Beck in June.
In eastern Tennessee, Republican Timothy Hill…